At a 2014 ACA National Conference session, I was asked by seasoned camp professionals, “Why do young staff ask us so many questions when we give them a task?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Because we think we are disposable. If we do it wrong, you will get someone else.” The collective gasp of the professionals registered astonishment, but all of the young staff serving on the panel starting nodding their heads. If you feel this way, you are not alone.

Disposable misconceptions — let’s talk about them, so we can trash them.

Fear is a common theme among emerging professionals: fear of asking too many or the wrong questions, fear of over- exaggerating mistakes in our minds, fear of disappointing our employer, fear that we can be easily disposed of and replaced.

We have a strong desire to perform our job to the highest potential independently (Yeah!). We crave thorough training and are often unsure of how to ask for clarification without sounding incompetent. We are the multiple-choice generation. We have selected from choices given to us by caregivers and teachers. We put on a strong face of confidence, but deep inside we fear that we do not know all the answers. We worry when we’re asked to step beyond our comfort zones. We feel intimidated about how to ask our supervisors for feedback on job performance.

Push through the fear — so we can emerge stronger and more confident.

There are ways to push through the disposable feeling. First, realize that you are new to the position, so you really do not have enough information to understand the overall system. Watch and learn as you trust that your supervisor would not have given you the job if he or she did not feel you were competent. Ask questions, but be sure to fi lter the questions and use peers as resources. Understand that your experiences are unique, and even those with more experience can gain from your perspective. There is great value in fresh eyes, so offer your ideas — just do so respectfully. Also, do not assume that your ideas are over- looked because you are new. It may just not be the best idea.

Second, listen carefully to what your employer expects from you. Communication started at your fi rst interaction. Talk with your employer about what you expect from the job and how you hope it fi ts into your career path. Look for the “why” behind a task, and if you don’t know how to do something, ask. If you are pretty sure it has already been explained and you didn’t pay attention, fess up, apologize, and then ask. Remember that there are steps to the fi ring process and a warning will come fi rst unless it is a policy violation — the policy is the warning. Be confi dent in your abilities but not cocky. Be honest, curious, and humble. Remember you are part of the team. The camp has invested in you, and YOU ARE NOT DISPOSABLE.

The author would like to acknowledge the encouragement and mentorship of Dr. Gwynn Powell in writing this essay, as well as the other panel members at the ACA national confer- ence who were willing to nod their heads: Kate Carpuso, Lauren Noone, Chelsea Schwabe, and Joseph Stanczak.

Ariel Blanton is working on her master’s degree in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at Clemson University. She earned her BS in family and child sciences (with a specialization in five- to twelve-year-olds) from Florida State University and has five years of camp experience, including 4-H camps and youth camp programs in Russia.

Originally published in the 2014 May/June Camping Magazine.

Photo courtesy of Camp Favorite, Brewster, Massachusetts